Suddenly Royal(4)

By: Nichole Chase

Playboy Prince on the Prowl

—L.A. Chatter

When I asked for the bill, Rose waved it off. “You’re our guest. We will take care of the bill.”

“Thank you.” I didn’t want to offend her by insisting, even though it made me uncomfortable.

“I hope to hear from you soon, Samantha.” Rose looked over her shoulder and Duvall appeared from the shadows of the room. I tried to keep my face from registering my shock. The man gave me the willies. He handed Rose a card and a pen. She wrote something on the back and handed it to me. “Call me if you have any questions. That’s my direct line.”

“Thank you.” I tucked the card into the small purse I was carrying. I was sure Rose didn’t give out that number very often, so didn’t want to risk losing it.

“Off to bed then, for me. I’m not as young as I used to be. But don’t let that stop you and Alex. I’ve heard there are many interesting places in town for young people.” Rose held her hand out to me and pulled me close once. Softly she kissed my cheek and smiled. “It’s been a pleasure, my dear. A pleasure.”

“Very much so.” I bussed her cheek and tried to suppress the queasy feeling that surfaced when she suggested I spend more time with Alex. What the hell was I going to do with a prince? Good grief, even the voice in my head squeaked when I thought the word prince.

I watched quietly as Alex kissed his aunt good-bye before Duvall ushered her through the restaurant. I looked up into Alex’s amused eyes when he cleared his throat.

“Would you like to get a drink? The bartender seems rather knowledgeable.” His eyes slid over my body in a lazy perusal. “Or if you’d prefer, we could try somewhere else.”

“I probably shouldn’t.” The most attractive man I had ever met just asked me for a drink and I tell him no? I’m insane. I’m sure he was just trying to be polite. “I drove, so no more drinks for me tonight.”

“Ah.” He looked down at me and I felt small. Not in the personal sense, but literally small. The man was tall. “Well then, let me walk you to your car.”

“Thank you.” As we moved toward the entrance, he placed a hand on the small of my back. The warmth from his palm seeped through the thin material of my dress and made me shiver.

“I thought you weren’t cold.” He dipped his head so his breath tickled my ear.

“I’m not.” My voice sounded a little breathy and I swallowed to wet my throat. “I mean, it’s cooler closer to the door.”

“Hm.” As we neared the door, he dropped his hand from my back and smiled at the hostess. “Our coats, please.”

“Of course.” She batted her eyes and I had to fight to not roll mine. When she brought our coats back, she practically threw mine at me and I had to scramble to not drop it. Alex swooped down and grabbed the coat before it could touch the floor and held it open for me. Carefully I shrugged into the ugly jacket and let him help shift the shoulders so it sat correctly. After pulling on his coat, he led me outside and motioned for the attendants. The young man who had given me my ticket earlier waved at me before running off toward the parking garage.

“Samantha, I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but I hope you consider what my aunt has offered. Our country would benefit from another forward-thinking member on the council. And our healthcare rivals the best. Your father would be well seen to.” Alex stepped close to me, buffering the strong winter wind.

“This is something I’m going to have to think about.” I shook my head—his eyes were almost hypnotizing. And he smelled scrumptious. Clean, delicious man. The longer I spent time with him, the harder it was to ignore how attractive he was.

“Of course.” He looked away from me for a minute, his eyes trailing over the traffic before turning back to me. “I know what it’s like to have your life turned upside down. Especially when you’ve worked as hard as you have at your education.”

“I have no idea how to be a royal. I can’t even speak Lilarian.” Thinking about it was overwhelming. “It’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t even know what a Duchess does.”

“We wouldn’t throw you to the wolves.” He dipped his head down so that he was looking me in the eye. “I wouldn’t throw you to the wolves.”

Not sure how to respond to that, I just nodded my head. His eyes starred down into mine and I felt entranced. There was some kind of emotion swirling behind that ice that I didn’t understand. I had the feeling he wouldn’t have promised to just anyone.

“Miss!” The parking attendant jogged toward us, my keys in his hand. I groaned when I realized what that meant. “I’m sorry ma’am, but I can’t get her to start.”

“Not again.” I closed my eyes for a brief moment. “Okay. Where is it parked?”

“It’s on the third deck. I can take you to it, but I popped the lid and checked the battery and I don’t think a jump will do it.” The young man held the keys out to me and I took them from his hand.

“It’s probably the starter.” Turning toward Alex I smiled ruefully. “Thank you for dinner. I’ll be in touch with your aunt about what we discussed.”

“How are you going to get home?” Alex stepped closer and touched my shoulder when I started to turn.

“Well, I’m going to go check to see what’s wrong, and I guess I’ll call a cab.” I winced slightly at the thought. A cab home from downtown would cost a small fortune.

“Let me call a car for you and I’ll have someone take care of your truck in the morning.” Without waiting for my response he looked at the attendant. “Will the vehicle be fine where it is for now?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. Please call us a car.”

“No, thank you, but I can take care of my own business.” I narrowed my eyes at Alex. He definitely was used to being in charge. Too bad I wasn’t used to people making my decisions.

“Samantha, I’m not going to let you run off into a dark parking garage to take care of a broken vehicle.” He shook his head. “What kind of man would I be?”

“One from the twenty-first century.”

Alex threw his head back and laughed. The sound drew the eyes of pedestrians and other people waiting on their cars. “Samantha, the century doesn’t dictate chivalry.”

“Of course it does. Women have proven to be just as capable as men.”

“Oh, I have no doubt you are quite capable.” His eyes raked over my body in a way that made me hot all over. “But I’m still not going to let you walk into a dark parking garage in the freezing weather when we know your car is already refusing to start. Let me see you home, and we’ll get your car to you tomorrow.”

“For the love of… Fine. I can take a cab.” My mind went over the contents of my purse. Maybe I could take a cab a couple of blocks to a coffee shop and call Jess and Bert.

“Samantha, I’m seeing you home. I want to make sure you get there safely.” His mouth pulled up into a cocky grin that was both irritating and sexy. “Besides, I can see the wheels spinning in your head. You’d likely take the taxi around the block and come back to work on your truck.”

“I wouldn’t…” An exasperated burst of laughter flew out of my mouth and I looked away from Alex and bit my lip. “Okay, you got me. I’ll let you take me home.”

“Thank you.” Alex reached down and captured my hand with a quick squeeze. “My chivalrous heart appreciates it.”

“I’d hate for you to lose sleep over my safety.” His thumb ran across my knuckles and I felt my heart rate increase.

“Agreed.” He leaned closer to me, the heat from his body warming my arm. “There are much more enjoyable ways of losing sleep.” He winked jauntily and looked toward the curb. “Our ride.”

The black limo pulled up to the hotel and the attendant opened the door for us. Alex led me to the car and I tried to not focus on the fact that he was still holding my fingers. I felt foolish sliding into the luxury car. The last time I had been in a limo was prom, a thousand years ago. My date had been drunk and thrown up on my dress. Not exactly good memories.

Alex slid into the seat and looked at me. I started to shift uncomfortably. “What?”

“Your address?” He smiled and I found myself flushing again.

“Oh.” I rattled off the street address and watched as Alex nodded at the driver. Once we pulled away from the curb, the driver closed the window between the front and back. I leaned into my seat and watched as the lights of the city flew by.

“Do you have a roommate? Or do you still live with your father?” Alex shifted in his seat. I found it odd that we were in this huge car and yet both sat on the smallest bench in the very rear. Should I have scooted around once I climbed in? Was there limo etiquette?

“Yes. Jess and I have lived together since our freshman year.” I snorted. “And her boyfriend Bert, he practically lives with us.”

“And your boyfriend?” Alex watched my face carefully.

“Did you really just ask if I had a boyfriend?” I laughed.

“Apparently not very smoothly.” He laughed. “Are you ducking the question?”

“No boyfriend. I don’t have time for that type of stuff.” Boyfriends required time and patience. Not to mention energy, and lately all that was spent on my degree or taking care of my father.

He hmm’d to himself for a minute and I felt one of my eyebrows rise in amusement.

“What?” I asked.

“Well, if the only thing holding you here is school and your father, then there’s hope you will come home with us. No bothersome boyfriend to worry about.” He leaned back comfortably, his eyes trained on my face. “Besides, you’ll be on all the men’s radar when you get there. Beautiful, American, intelligent, and funny. Not to mention your comic-book knowledge. I might have some competition.”

“Oh.” Had he just called me attractive? Competition for me? I should know better. He was just being friendly, trying to convince me to go. Alex couldn’t be interested in someone like me. I was light-years from the type of women he was probably used to. I wasn’t sophisticated or fashionable. Hell, I hadn’t even known what fork to use at dinner tonight.

“Why does it matter to you?” I hoped he didn’t hear the irritation in my voice. I was mainly upset with myself for being disappointed. “Is there something in it for you if I go to Lilaria?”

He ran a hand across his jaw, taking his time before answering. “I’m not sure. You’re intriguing.”

“What does that mean?” Intriguing? As in a possible pawn he could use? Intriguing ideas? “Look, if I go to Lilaria and take a seat on the council, I’m not going to side with you on things just because you told me I was from a long-lost line of royalty. So if you’re planning on using me for some political maneuvering, you’d be sorely disappointed.”

“And that’s exactly why we need you.” Alex chuckled. “Lord, you’re a feisty woman.”

I snorted and started to respond but was interrupted by my beeping cell phone. I pulled it out of the little clutch I was carrying and checked the text message. Jess was making sure I was okay, so I sent her a quick message letting her know I was on my way home. She replied that I shouldn’t text and drive. Little did she know I was in a limo.

Before I could put the phone back in my purse, Alex held his hand out. “May I?”

“Uh, sure.” Not sure if he needed to use the phone or if he was being nosy, I watched as he unlocked the screen and typed something quickly. He held the phone to his ear and nodded.

“Now you have my number.” He turned it off and handed it back to me. “If you need anything or have any questions, let me know. Anything at all.”

The limo pulled off the expressway and turned toward my neighborhood. “Thanks.”

As we pulled up to my little house, I grew nervous. I berated myself, because it wasn’t like this was a date. He wasn’t going to be looking for a good-night kiss.

“Well, this is me.” I nodded toward my little house and watched his reaction. Would he think my house was sad? Or would he think it funny that a long-lost line of royalty lived in such an old home? I liked our little place. It was ours. Well, not really ours. We rented it but had been there for three years. It was home.

“Lovely place.” Alex opened the door to the limo and held his hand out for me. His warm fingers wrapped around mine to help me before moving to the small of my back as we walked through the snow-covered grass. I knew it was a gentlemanly thing to do, to assist a woman walking through the snow, but it amused me. I didn’t need help walking through my own yard. In fact, I was the last person to cut the grass.

“It does look pretty cozy all covered in snow.” When we got to the front stoop I turned to look at Alex and smiled. I pulled the keys out of my purse and looked for the door key. “Thank you for making sure I got home safely.”

“Thank you for letting me keep my dignity.” Alex stepped closer and brushed some of the hair away from my face. My breath caught as he leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to my cheek. “It’s been… an honor to meet you, Samantha.”

I looked at him sharply to see if he was joking, mocking what I had said when we first met, but it brought our faces nose-to-nose. There was an amused glint in his eyes, but underneath that was something much warmer. We stood there, neither moving, only our breaths tangling in the cold air between our lips. Part of me demanded to move closer, to press my hungry mouth to his, while another part of me screamed to run for the hills. He shifted closer and I tilted my head up as his hand moved to cup my cheek.

The front door was pulled open in a rush of warm air, and I almost stumbled off the top step. Alex’s warm fingers closed around my elbow to help steady me. I turned to look into Jess’s wide eyes and smiled weakly.

“Sorry, I thought you were having trouble with your key again.” Jess swung her gaze from Alex to me and back. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“You didn’t. Alex brought me home when my truck wouldn’t start.” I cleared my throat and turned to smile at the prince standing on my tiny front porch.

“My pleasure.” Alex winked at me before tipping his head to Jess. “You must be Jess.” Holding his hand out, I watched as my roommate looked at it like it was something unreal before slowly leaning out of the front door to shake it.

“Yes. Jess. I am. I mean, I am Jess. Um, nice to meet you.” Jess looked at me and then back at Alex. She yanked her hand away from him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to hold your hand like some kind of crazy stalker. Boyfriend! Bert! My boyfriend is in the living room.”

My eyes grew wider with each word out of Jess’s mouth and I had to fight to not laugh out loud. I looked over Jess’s shoulder to see Bert staring at us with the same look of amusement.

“Right. This is my roommate, the not-stalker and that’s her boyfriend, Bert, back there.” Bert raised his hand in greeting.

“Nice to meet you both.” Alex looked back at me, and I could see the amusement rippling in the blues of his eyes. “I’ll be in touch, Samantha.”

“Sure.” I nodded my head, trying to make everything seem very businesslike. “I look forward to it.” My heart stopped. Had I really just added that? What was wrong with me?

“As do I.” His eyes held mine before he bowed his head and backed down the steps. I didn’t move as I watched him walk across the lawn and climb through the limo door, which the driver was holding open. Turning, I shooed Jess back into the house and closed the door behind me. I leaned against the heavy wood and kicked the heels off my feet.

Jess stood there staring at me, her eyes the size of saucers. I sighed and shrugged out of my coat. “Go ahead and get it out of your system.”

“Prince Yummy brought you home.” Jess pointed a finger at me like I was in trouble. This was going to be bad.

“His Royal Highness, Prince Alex, brought me home.” I frowned at her. “You have to stop calling him that. It was stuck in my head all night.”

“His Royal Highness, Prince Alex of the Yummy, brought you home. In a limo.” Jess took a deep breath. “And you were about to kiss him. Right there. On our porch!”

“What? No. No I wasn’t.” I shook my head and dropped my coat on the rack before walking to the kitchen.

“I’m not blind, Sam. You were, like, this far apart!” She held her finger and thumb up so I could see the sliver of space between them. “You were going to kiss him!”

“Don’t be ridiculous. He’s European. They kiss cheeks. That’s all.” I fixed a glass of water before hauling myself up onto the counter.

Bert followed us into the kitchen and leaned against the doorframe, his arms across his chest. I didn’t like the look in his eyes. Jess could jump to conclusions. She was brilliant, but I also knew that me being involved with Alex would be the stuff of her daydreams. Bert, however, was a practical guy with an eye for detail.

“Look, I met with the duchess and she brought Alex. When it was time to leave, the parking attendant said my car wouldn’t start, so Alex insisted on seeing me home.” I took a sip of water, trying to calm my nerves. I could still smell him—it was like he had permeated all my senses. “Some kind of princely chivalry. That’s all.”

“I’m not stupid, Sam. I know what I saw.” Jess smiled. “Prince Yummy likes you.”

I shook my head and hopped down from the counter. I needed to derail that thought process before it got out of hand.

“Even if he did, which he doesn’t, I’m not interested. You know me, Jess. A guy like that is nothing like what I want.”

“We usually need exactly what we think we don’t want.” Bert’s quiet voice filled the tiny kitchen and Jess nodded her head like a madwoman.

“Give me a break. Save your psycho mumbo jumbo for someone else.”

“What did they want to see you about, anyway?” Bert cocked his head to the side. “Are they donating money to the program?”

“No.” I let that rattle around in their heads for a minute. “Apparently I’m royalty.” You could’ve heard a pin drop because I was pretty sure they had both stopped breathing. “Go figure, right?” I refilled my water glass and squeezed past Bert’s giant frame before heading for my room.

“You know what the best part of my night was, though?” I stopped at my door and turned to look at Jess and Bert, who were both standing in the doorway staring at me with open mouths. “It was seeing Jess meet Prince Yummy in her giant college football jersey and fuzzy socks.”

“Oh my God.” Jess’s voice followed me as I walked into my room and I couldn’t help but snicker.